Sunday, 25 October 2009

Poll: People prefer Thaksin as PM

Published: 25/10/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra took the lead in the latest poll by Abac of Assumption University as more people preferred him to run the country than Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The pollsters asked more than 4,000 people in 27 provinces on the person they want to lead the government and found that 25.0 per cent of the respondents supported Thaksin, while 21.6 per cent backed Mr Abhisit.

Most of Thaksin’s supporters are people in the North and Norteast, Abac poll reported on Sunday.

More importantly, as high as 53.4 per cent of them said they were impartial giving no support to both Thaksin and Mr Abhisit.

Some 92.1 per cent of the samples did not want to see violent political activities, while 90.8 per cent did not want protesters to close streets as they faced hardships.

Asked about the recent trip to Cambodia by chairman of the opposition Puea Thai Party Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyuth, 42.9 per cent of the respondents backed the move saying it was a good intention of Gen Chavalit to help clear up dispute with the neighbouring country, while 40.2 per cent disagreed as it could escalate the two countries’ conflict.

Vietnam, Cambodia seeks ways to lift investment ties


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Leaders from the Ministries of Planning and Investment of Vietnam and Cambodia met in southwestern Tay Ninh province on October 23-24 to discuss measures to step up bilateral cooperative relations.

The Vietnamese delegation was led by Deputy Minister Truong Van Doan, while the Cambodian mission was headed by Secretary of State at the Ministry of Planning Hu Taing Eng.

Doan said the recent cooperation between the two ministries as well as border provinces have yielded promising results, especially in investment, agriculture, transport, trade, exports and human resources development.

However, Doan stressed that the cooperation in a number of areas have yet to match aspirations of both sides.

The deputy minister proposed that the ministries increase the exchange of experiences, support each other in personnel training, and join hands to raise two-way trade.

He also called on provinces along the shared border to boost cooperation in line with the agreements already signed between the two governments.

Cambodia’s new park protects tigers, elephants and CO2

October 25th, 2009
by ANI

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Washington, October 25 (ANI): The government of Cambodia has transformed a former logging concession into a new, Yosemite-sized protected area that safeguards not only threatened primates, tigers, and elephants, but also massive stores of carbon.The Royal Government’s Council of Ministers recently declared the creation of the Seima Protection Forest, which covers more than 1,100 square miles along Cambodia’s eastern border with Vietnam. “We commend the Royal Government of Cambodia for their decision to protect this important refuge for the region’s wildlife and also for safeguarding stocks of carbon,” said WCS Asia Program Director Colin Poole. Seima is the first protected area in Cambodia created with the conservation of forest carbon as one of its key goals.WCS is helping to measure carbon stocks contained in Seima Protection Forest to calculate the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that will not be released to the atmosphere as a result of the project’s work on reducing deforestation. This effort will support WCS’s “Carbon for Conservation” initiatives to help provide incentives to people to protect their forest in high-biodiversity landscapes, which are being developed in conjunction with negotiations on a proposed international policy known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). In addition to work in Cambodia, WCS is supporting similar efforts in Bolivia, Guatemala, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Indonesia.”In addition to safeguarding the wildlife of Cambodia, Seima Protection Forest will serve as an important model for demonstrating how REDD could be implemented on the ground,” said Dr. Jane Carter Ingram of WCS’s Conservation Support Team. “Forests provide numerous benefits for both wildlife and rural communities, so efforts such as these will help on local, regional and global scales,” she added. The newly designated protected area contains 23 species of carnivore, including seven cat species, two bears, and two species of wild dog. (ANI)

Thai minister downplays rift with Cambodia

Nirmal Ghosh

The Straits Times
Publication Date: 25-10-2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday downplayed tension between Cambodia and Thailand, saying discussions with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Asean Summit had been 'civil' and 'we will not allow any incident to be a hindrance to the overall relationship'.

Just hours earlier, the right-wing People's Alliance for Democracy said Hun Sen was not welcome in Thailand and demanded that Cambodian troops be withdrawn from a disputed area at the Preah Vihear temple on the border between the two countries.

Briefing reporters on the day's proceedings at the summit, Kasit said Cambodia and Thailand continue to have 'dialogue and cooperation'.

He said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Cambodian Premier had pledged earlier this year that no incident would be allowed to damage the relationship. On Friday, Abhisit had rebuked Hun Sen for insisting that ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra was welcome in Cambodia.

Hun Sen had also said he would make Thaksin his economic adviser, and compared the fugitive billionaire to Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi - a parallel that visibly irked Abhisit.

Thaksin, who became prime minister in 2001, was removed in a military coup in September 2006, and was accused of corruption, cronyism and disrespect for Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He has fled overseas to dodge a jail sentence.

Meanwhile, in another bilateral meeting on the summit sidelines, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed to 'gradually narrow differences on border issues between the two countries', China's Xinhua news agency reported. Mr Singh said 'neither side should let our differences act as impediment to the growth of functional cooperation between the two countries', according to a statement on the website of India's Ministry of External Affairs.

Thaksin’s Cambodia gambit

(Posted by CAAI News Media)


Sunday October 25, 2009

THIS was supposed to be another try at the same thing: hosting an Asean summit in a southern Thai resort, but without the disgraceful violence of last April.

This time they succeeded. But what made it possible, as the summit winds down today, are the different tactics adopted by the government and the red-shirted protesters that neither would rush to acknowledge.

The Democrat government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is disinclined to pass laws that could be seen as draconian. But it had to resort to an Internal Security Act applicable in certain areas, like conference venues Cha-am and Hua Hin, to keep the mob away.

The pro-Thaksin red shirts found things were stacked against them this time, such as police determination to enforce a security cordon. All they could manage was a dignified-looking protest letter delivered to conference representatives, apart from claiming that they could have entered the conference grounds if they wanted to.

Meanwhile, their PR front claimed they should not be blamed for April’s rampage, since things only happened to get out of hand. Whoever manages to convince is beside the point, because the real issues have moved beyond the Thaksinoid red shirts.

Bangkok’s problems revolve around fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in a 2006 coup and convicted of corruption, seeking to return to power from self-imposed exile. In the latest phase of his campaign, the red-shirted protesters are revealed again as pawns.

Last month, retired general and former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh talked privately to Thaksin via videolink, and an understanding developed between them.

Chavalit, a one-year premier who had to quit as a result of the 1997 financial crisis, hopes to return to a position of some influence. Thaksin’s latest incarnation of a political party, Pheau Thai, was badly in need of a credible front man with good contacts in the political and military establishments.

Result: Chavalit became Pheau Thai chairman, without soiling his hands by running the party as official leader – everyone knows how Thaksin mud can stick. Chavalit had no wish to be seen as a Thaksin stooge, not being a rough gruff Samak Sundaravej, and instead wanted to display some gravitas.

First he claimed to be a mediator, then when he joined Pheau Thai he posed as a Thaksin adviser. A key piece of advice was supposed to be that Thaksin should change his approach by toning down his aggressive style.

That meant the red shirts would no longer cause street violence, at least for now. It also meant Thaksin should try opening another front from an unexpected quarter: Cambodia.

Just days before the Asean summit, Chavalit visited Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thaksin’s behalf. That caused the chess-playing Cambodian leader to announce that Thaksin was welcome in Cambodia, with Chavalit adding that Hun Sen also offered Thaksin a grand house to live in.

When Abhisit responded with the prospect of extraditing Thaksin should he move to Cambodia, its foreign ministry denied that Thaksin had been offered a house. Amid Cambodian government claims that any extradition request would be rebuffed, Hun Sen said he would appoint billionaire Thaksin as his economic adviser.

That rubbed salt into Abhisit’s wound, particularly as summit host, and Thaksin pounced by telling him not to offend his Cambodian guest. Abhisit’s democratic credentials in treading softly once more did not help his image as an inexperienced lightweight lacking “political heft”.

Hun Sen says his old friendship with Thak­sin triggered his hospitality. Chavalit himself is also an old friend and business associate who, as Thai premier, was jointly implicated in illegal logging in Cambodian forests.

The charge was denied, but the personal connections remain. Hun Sen and Thaksin also share a personal, power-based approach to governing quite at odds with Abhisit’s urbane, idealistic world.

At root, it is the differences between Hun Sen’s Cambodia and Abhisit’s Thailand that determine much of the discord between them. Rival claims to the Preah Vihear temple on disputed territory lingers. Although the dispute predates Abhisit’s premiership, Thaksin appears to have found new leverage on this score through Chavalit, who has favoured a less vocal Thai approach.

Hun Sen himself mentioned two other differences he had with Thailand: the recent appearance of Cambodian opposition politician Sam Rain­sy, who condemned Hun Sen’s government from Thailand, alongside other criticism of the Cambodian premier on Thai television.

These point to differences in the two countries’ polity and governance. Cambodia is unlikely to see any opposition leader berate government officials on television, much less critical commentary on incumbent leaders, whereas in Thailand, government critics can overflow onto streets to paralyse cities.

There is also the difference over state-military relations. In Cambodia there is no doubt who commands whom, but Abhisit is drawn more to issues like the chain of command and the separation of powers.

Ultimately, while Thailand is bigger and stronger than Cambodia, Hun Sen by invoking national sovereignty in extending privileges to Thaksin is saying that he is a bigger and stronger prime minister than Abhisit.

Given all this, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s vital role in calming the waters is crucial. That explains his rare public appearance on Friday even while undergoing treatment in hospital.

PM hopes to end Cambodia spat


Published: 25/10/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

CHA-AM : Thailand still hopes for an end to the spat with Cambodia as the Asean summit draws to a close today.

CONTENTIOUS: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the 15th Asean summit in Cha-am yesterday

Asean leaders will wrap up their three-day meeting in Cha-am district in Phetchaburi, and Hua Hin district in Prachuap Khiri Khan today with the East Asia summit between 10 Asean leaders and their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India.

Acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that the government had no plans to confront Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen over the Thaksin issue.

"The press conference by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [on Friday] was Thailand's toughest stance from the leader," said Mr Panitan.

On Friday, Mr Abhisit clearly sent the message that his Cambodian counterpart had to choose between his personal relationship with ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and good relations with Thailand.

Hun Sen's offer of a temporary home for Thaksin, a position as an economic adviser and his refusal to extradite Thaksin if he comes to Cambodia has upset the government.

A government source said the Cambodian leader's remarks were a shock for diplomats, and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya noted that they were "unacceptable".

Mr Kasit intended to give a press conference to counter Hun Sen's statement, but was stopped from doing so by Mr Abhisit, who decided to give the press conference himself, the source added.

The Thai and Cambodian leaders have no current plans for bilateral meetings in the near future due to their tight schedules, according to Mr Panitan.

The acting spokesman said the government was keeping an eye on Thaksin, and there were suspicions that he could be in a Southeast Asian country.

"The Thai government has been tracking Thaksin's travels in the Asean region over the past few weeks.

"But until now there has been no confirmation that he entered Cambodia recently," said Mr Panitan.

The Democrat Party yesterday pressed the Cambodian leader to clarify his previous statements about Thaksin, and party spokesman Buranat Samutharak called his remarks an intervention in Thailand's affairs.

Meanwhile, Veera Somkhamkid and a group of supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy yesterday submitted a letter to demand Hun Sen withdraw soldiers and personnel from the 4.6 square kilometre disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple within seven days.

CAMBODIA: Climate Fight an Uphill Battle, But All’s Not Lost

By Robert Carmichael
(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Oct 25 (IPS) - As one of the world’s poorest nations, Cambodia is by definition one of those least able to protect itself from the effects of climate change. As an agrarian society, it is one of those most susceptible to climate change.

A farmer ploughs his field 20 kilometres outside the capital Phnom Penh in Cambodia, a country particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Credit:Robert Carmichael/IPS

To compound the problem further, Cambodia is unlikely to get sufficient assistance from the rest of the world to meet those challenges.

So says Dr Tin Ponlok, the national project coordinator in the Ministry of Environment’s climate change office. But that does not make Cambodia special, he says: That is how things are for most developing countries.

"Poor nations suffer, but they are not the cause of the problem – so what?" he asks, referring to former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s comments about the developing world picking up the bill for the rich nations. "How much power do [poor countries] have? Not much. How much commitment [is there in the developed world]? How much do they give and how much do they support? Not much."

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made a similar point at the country’s first National Forum on Climate Change on Oct. 19, when he said that developed nations must do more for their poorer cousins.

"The rich countries should be more responsible, as they have more resources to settle this matter," Hun Sen said. "Cambodia is not the country responsible for climate change, but is the victim."

On the final day of the forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia issued its draft position ahead of December’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. As a developing country, Cambodia said it would do "its utmost" to reduce greenhouse gases; in return the rich world must provide cash and technology.

But Cambodia is not just a victim. It is also one of those most at risk from climate change. That was the finding in September by a British research consultancy, Maplecroft, which said the South-east Asian kingdom was the 27th nation most vulnerable to climate change out of 166 countries surveyed.

The index assessed nations on their current vulnerability and their preparedness to deal with climate change. Cambodia fared badly — it is the only country within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that is in the bottom 30 states on the index, and its vulnerability is rated as ‘extreme’. Laos is the next closest at 37. Of those lowest-placed 30 states, 23 are in Africa.

Dr Tin says that Cambodia’s problems in respect of climate change are many, varied and in some cases unique. Firstly, it is a post-conflict society in which perhaps one-quarter of its population died under the Khmer Rouge rule of the late 1970s. That has had knock-on effects in many areas, including in terms of the number of skilled people able to deal with climate change.

"Also, this is an agrarian country where 80 percent of people live in the rural areas, and most of them depend on agriculture," says Dr Tin. "That leaves Cambodia quite exposed to climate change."

He says Typhoon Ketsana, which recently swept through the Philippines and Vietnam before devastating parts of northern Cambodia, highlighted the dangers associated with climate change.

"I don’t say there is an absolute correlation [between Ketsana and climate change], but there is some link between what happened," he says. "I think there is a scientific basis – we have never seen that kind of thing before."

He says that until Ketsana, which killed 43 people here, Cambodia was protected from the worst effects of typhoons by the Cardamom Mountain range in the southwest and the Dalat plateau in central Vietnam.

"That is not enough to protect us any more," he says.

Other risks for Cambodia include increasing frequency and severity of extreme climate events, such as floods, drought, windstorms and seawater surges.

These are all problems in search of a solution. In late 2006 the government released its National Adaptation Programme of Action to Climate Change, or NAPA, which lays out the approach to dealing with climate change in the areas of agriculture, water resources, coastal zone effects and human health.

Among the items on the list of 20 high-priority projects are rehabilitating dams and waterways, planting vegetation to protect from floods and storms, aquaculture, and improving disaster response preparedness in communities.

But three years on, just two of the 39 projects in the NAPA have received funding. Dr Tin says that is standard for developing countries, since rich nations that pledged money to a central fund have failed to deliver.

"The most important thing is that so little funding is available from the international community for those projects," he says.

Despite the lack of progress, Cambodia’s NAPA did elicit some important findings. One was that villagers in almost every province told researchers they suffered from both floods and droughts. That explains the mixed (and as yet unmet) focus on the NAPA’s high-priority projects.

Flooding presents the more significant problem in terms of food security. It caused 70 percent of the loss of rice production between 1998 and 2002.

And although drought was responsible for just 20 percent of the loss, it still affects many Cambodians: Four-fifths of people interviewed suffered from a lack of water for farming during the year, and slightly more than half lacked enough water for personal use. Coping mechanisms were intriguingly mixed – the government paper notes that one in four people "simply organise religious ceremonies in the hope that these will bring rain".

The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), the country’s main non-governmental agricultural organisation, is helping to raise awareness of climate change. It is running a project that has trained 80,000 rural families across the country on ways to adapt to the expected increasing severity of droughts, floods and higher numbers of agricultural pests.

Kim Than, CEDAC’s director of field programmes, says the NGO decided to add a pilot module to raise awareness about climate change among around 1,000 of those 80,000 families when teaching them how to adapt to the expected challenges they will face. He found that awareness levels were low.

"I have been running the climate change project [to educate people] for two years now – so it is a new thing," he says. "But I find that people rarely know about this climate change problem, so I always make sure to educate them about it and to encourage them."

The project teaches people how to mitigate the effects of climate change and to improve their livelihoods by diversifying away from relying on one crop, typically rice. Kim Than says the looming threat of climate change means that educating farmers about rice intensification – growing more rice on the same amount of land with less water – is key, as is creating multi-purpose farms.

"In that way people won’t just plant rice, they’ll also raise some chickens, or a pig and some fish, and they can plant a vegetable garden," Kim Than says. "We also teach them how to dig a channel that can hold water as well as fish when there is a drought."

He also tells them about techniques on disaster reduction as well as the importance of planting trees, "because it’s important to reduce greenhouse gases," referring to gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

It all sounds ideal for a mainly rural, developing country, but there is not enough money to roll it out across the country. If and when the funding comes, Kim Than hopes to reach the approximately three million families across Cambodia.

CEDAC’s experience reinforces Dr Tin’s point about a lack of cash to implement solutions. But he admits that is not the only problem. Dr Tin says that three years after the country signed off on its NAPA, other challenges remain.

"Coordination needs to be improved," he says. "Climate change is a cross- sectoral issue, so we have to work together. It’s not just a lack of funding and support from the international community – we need to respond better at a national level."

It seems an almost insurmountable challenge for a country like Cambodia, given the lack of funding, a lack of awareness in rural areas, high vulnerability and few technical skills, among other things. But Dr Tin maintains he is not pessimistic.

"We need to be optimistic – even if sometimes you know you’re fighting a losing battle, you still have to fight," he says.

People's network threaten action against Cambodia

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
Published on October 25, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cha-am - Thai protesters yesterday threatened to surround the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok next month unless Prime Minister Hun Sen withdrew troops and removed Cambodian community from the disputed area adjacent to Preah Vihear.

Some 30 people led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) made a brief protest at Puk Tien beach in ChaAm district, some 10km away from the Asean meeting venue in response to the harsh remarks by Hun Sen regarding fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the disputed area near the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear for a long time but the issue heated up a year ago when it was listed as a World Heritage Site.

The issue of Thaksin added fuel to the conflict when Hun Sen said he would make the fugitive expremier his economic adviser and would not extradite him to Thailand. Such remarks have heightened tensions with the Thai government which is seeking to apprehend Thaksin, who has been sentenced to two years' prison sentence in a corruption case.

The protesters handed over their letter of demands to the Foreign Ministry's DirectorGeneral of Asean Affairs Vitavas Srivihok demanding the troop withdrawal and removal of the Cambodian community from the area within a week.

They condemned Hun Sen's recent remarks and wanted the Cambodian premier to leave Thailand immediately as he was not attending the Asean Summit in a spirit of goodwill.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said his government had allowed the protesters to exercise their freedom of expression in accordance with democratic principles. The government would take their demands into consideration and would convey them to the neighbouring country if necessary, he said.

The Thai government would not allow one incident to jeopardise relations between the two countries, which have a lot of areas of mutual interest, he said. Kasit said the government would deal with Hun Sen in a cool manner.

"We have been together with Samdech Hun Sen the whole day in the [Asean] meeting. I think he did participate in every session [of the Asean meeting] in a very constructive manner," Kasit said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen even supported Thailand's intention to be a temporary unit of surveillance of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM), Kasit said.

Regarding the Thaksin issue, Kasit maintained his hope that Hun Sen would be able to distinguish personal affairs from the mutual interests of the two countries.

"I don't know whether Prime Minister Hun Sen has invited Thaksin to visit Cambodia after he has served his jail term in Thailand or not," he said.

If Thaksin were to be in Cambodia before serving his sentence, the government would seek his extradition in accordance with the bilateral treaty, Kasit said.

Thaksin told PM to be more polite

Published: 24/10/2009
(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva should not have threatened any other countries as they all have sovereignty, deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in his twitter @thaksinlive late Friday night.

He was responding to the remark by Mr Abhisit that if Cambodian prime minister is to appoint Thaksin as his economic advisor, Mr Hun Sen must give explanation to him or ties between Thailand and Cambodia could be affected.

“As the leader of Asean, Mr Abhisit should act mannerly and try to provide warm hospitality for the country’s very important guests. The premier must also be concerned about international relationship”, Thaksin said, adding that he warned Mr Abhisit as he is more senior than him in every fields.

“Even though Mr Abhisit is inconsiderate to Mr Hun Sen, he should be considerate to other leaders of governments and heads of states attending the Asean summit”, said the deposed premier.

He suggested the government ask for cooperation from the neighbouring country through diplomatic system, not threatening.

Thaksin also attacked Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Pirom for destroying relationships with the countries that allowed him to enter their territories.

“Wherever I went, Mr Kasit would fly there and threatened to cut trade and investment ties with those countries. The ministry was set up to create good relationship with the international community or to destroy it”, he questioned.

Family killed in bomb accident

Oct 24, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH - A CAMBODIAN man accidentally killed himself, his pregnant wife and young daughter as he attempted to remove explosives from a bomb he had scavenged for metal, police said on Saturday.

They said that Mr Leng Hatha's 39-year-old wife, who was six months pregnant, and his five-year-old daughter were killed in the blast at their home in southern Kampot province on Thursday evening. Mr Leng Hatha died the next day from his injuries in hospital.

'It happened because the husband was trying to pound the bombshell to take out the explosives,' deputy provincial police chief In Chiva told AFP.

He said the man earned money from selling metal from unexploded bombs and more than one hundred bombs remained inside his house.

'He had a device to find mines and bombshells, so he could find many,' Mr In Chiva said, adding that Mr Leng Hatha had previously been jailed for the activity.

Cambodia, one of the world's most heavily mined countries, is littered with unexploded ordnance from nearly three decades of civil war and the secret US bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam War. But many people in the impoverished kingdom continue to risk their lives by searching for the metal scraps to sell. -- AFP

Korea offers Cambodia more development aid

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, chats with President Lee Myung-bak, center, through a translator during a tour of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, 143 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, yesterday. [YONHAP]

October 24, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - Korea will provide a further $9.25 million to Cambodia in new development assistance in 2010 and 2011 to fund a road construction project in Siem Reap, best known for its proximity to Angkor Wat, according to the Blue House.

Korea gave $5.9 million between 2005 and 2009 to build the road in an effort to help conserve the cultural heritage site.

The Korea Ring Road will help disperse traffic in the area, contributing to protecting the 800-year-old temples, the Blue House said in a press release.

Following a visit to Angkor Wat to discuss the road project and cultural preservation, Lee departed for Hua Hin, Thailand, yesterday to attend a series of regional summits.

Today and tomorrow, Lee will attend the Korea-Asean summit and the Asean Plus Three summit where leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, China and Japan will join him.

In the regional summits, Lee will seek the participating leaders’ support to resolve North Korea’s nuclear crisis, the Blue House said. Measures to fight climate change and promote green growth will also be addressed.

After the Asean Plus Three summit, the leaders are expected to adopt a statement on food security and bio energy development cooperation.

Tomorrow, the South Korean president will also attend the annual East Asia summit, in which the leaders of the Asean Plus Three and India, Australia and New Zealand will sit down to discuss regional and global issues.

According to the Blue House, the Lee administration will concentrate its efforts on cementing trust between Korea and Asean.

During a cabinet workshop last Sunday, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Korea will use the Group of 20 summit that it will host in November next year as an opportunity to promote Lee’s New Asia Initiative, the Blue House has said.

Lee announced a new diplomatic initiative to engage Asia-Pacific nations in March, marking a shift in focus for Seoul’s foreign policy, from the four global powers to relations with its regional neighbors.

Lee said Seoul’s foreign policy concentration on Washington, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow last year was successful and that the time had come to reach out to countries in the region.

Under his “New Asia Initiative,” Lee’s goal is to speak for Asian nations in the international community. According to the Blue House, Korea seeks to cooperate with Asia-Pacific neighbors while playing a leading role in resolving transnational tasks such as the financial crisis and climate change. Seoul will focus on diplomacy to encourage free trade and investment within the region.

According to the Blue House, Lee’s initiative gained momentum over the past seven months after he attended the Asean Plus Three summit in Thailand in April, visited Central Asia in May and hosted the Korea-Asean special summit in June.

For stronger ties with Asean, Lee has also promised to increase the Korea-Asean cooperative fund from the annual $3 million to $5 million after 2010.

Korea’s official development assistance toward Asean nations will be increased from $155 million of last year to $395 million by 2015.

“The New Asia Initiative is also in line with President Lee’s national vision of a greater, global Korea,” Lee Dong-kwan, Lee’s senior secretary for public affairs, has said.

“The president has an idea of highlighting Asia’s role and capability in the new international order to be formed in the post-global financial crisis era. And the New Asia Initiative is the product of President Lee’s vision.”

The Asean summits in Thailand later this week and the APEC summit in Singapore next month will be used as key opportunities to promote Lee’s vision, the Blue House said.

By Ser Myo-ja []

ASEAN summit hits snag on new rights panel

Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva (Sakchai Lalit - AP)

By Tim Johnston and Kevin Brown
Saturday, October 24, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

HUA HIN, THAILAND -- Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were supposed to celebrate the inauguration of the group's new human rights body as they met Friday, but rifts over human rights, trade and politics marred the first day of the region's annual summit.

Five member states -- Burma, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Singapore -- refused to meet the five individuals chosen by civil rights groups to represent their countries.

"I am very disappointed, and I see this as not only a rejection of me personally and the organization I represent, but as a rejection of the democratic process in the region," said Sister Crescencia Lucero, the Franciscan nun who was to have been the Philippines representative.

The association's Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, one of the central elements of the legally binding ASEAN Charter signed last year, disappointed many rights advocates when it was limited to the promotion rather than the protection of human rights.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister and current ASEAN chairman, tried to put a positive gloss on the dispute.

"For members of civil society, you should be assured that you now have a partner with which to work," he said.

Nongovernmental groups have portrayed the disagreement as a struggle for the soul of ASEAN: Is it, as Vejjajiva described in his opening statement, a "people-centered" community or, as its critics allege, an uncritical club for regional governments, some of which, such as Burma and Cambodia, are regularly accused of human rights abuses?

ASEAN is caught between its drive for greater integration and international relevance, and the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other member states, but bilateral relations are a recurrent problem.

Regional politicians sometimes cite the European Union as their model, but their ambitions risk running aground on the vast political and social differences between the states, which range from the absolute monarchy of Brunei to the communist governments of Vietnam and Laos.

-- Financial Times

Myanmar Won't Allow Thailand's Foe To Use Its Soil, Says PM

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

HUA HIN, Oct 24 (Bernama) -- Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein has assured his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva that his country would not allow anyone opposing Thailand to use its soil as a springboard to attack the kingdom, according to the Thai News Agency (TNA).

Thein Sein, who is now attending the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit being held in the Thai resorts of Hua Hin and Cha-am, reportedly told Abhisit on the sidelines of the summit Friday, that Myanmar upheld the principle of living in harmony and that it would not allow anyone opposing Thailand wishing to use his country as springboard in attacking this country.

Expressing his confidence that Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, could sail through obstacles and negative challenges, Thein Sein told Abhisit that both Myanmar and Thailand share a long border and both countries have to depend with each other and good neighbourliness is, therefore, significant.

Thein Sein's remarks were made after Abhisit and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen traded words after the Khmer leader reasserted Friday on arriving for the ASEAN summit that his government would reject any Thai request to extradite former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra if the self-exiled ex-premier accepts an invitation for refuge in Cambodia.

Hun Sen told journalists to read the extradition treaty thoroughly to understand why the former Thai premier, whom he described as his friend, can stay in Cambodia as a guest of the Cambodian government.

Ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006, Thaksin jumped bail and fled sentencing to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in the controversial Bangkok's Ratchadapisek land purchase case.

The toppled Thai premier now spends most of his time in the United Arab Emirates after his status as a visitor was rejected by a number of countries including both the United Kingdom and Germany.

Thanking Myanmar for its support given to Thailand as chairman of ASEAN, Abhisit told Thein Sein that his government supports Japan's financial assistance bestowed to Myanmar on various projects, including developing hospitals and schools.

Abhisit said his government, as a close neighbour to Myanmar and host of ASEAN, had told every country to strengthen ties with Myanmar and had requested the Myanmar government leader to "unofficially report" on progress on development projects in his country during the ASEAN summit on Saturday.

Wishing Myanmar to successfully hold its general election next year, Abhisit also told Thein Sein that he hopes to officially visit Myanmar when he has the opportunity and to also meet Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to boost democracy for the world community.

The leaders of ASEAN's 10 member countries--Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam-- are holding their three-day summit in the Thai resorts with their six dialogue partners--China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The summit ends Sunday.

Thailand-Cambodia Dispute Overshadows Summit

Saturday, October 24, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

CHA-AM, Thailand — An uncharacteristically edgy summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) threatened to boil over yesterday as Thai-Cambodian relations took another turn for the worse.

A visibly exasperated Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjjiva hit back at his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, calling him “seriously misinformed” over the latter’s remarks comparing fugitive former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hun Sen had earlier offered Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, a job as an economics advisor and said that if the exiled media mogul chose to come to Cambodia, he would not face extradition to Thailand to face corruption charges.

“Thaksin can stay in Cambodia as the guest of Cambodia and also be my guest as my adviser on our economy,” said Hun Sen.

His remarks comparing the former Thai prime minister with Aung San Suu Kyi raised many eyebrows among summit delegates, as he attempted to capitalize on the international media attention on Asean this weekend to highlight his view that Thaksin’s plight is politically driven.

“Hun Sen’s comments are being seen as an attempt to intervene in Thailand’s precarious domestic political situation,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the director of the Institute of Security and International Studies (Thailand) at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Last week, Hun Sen gave a pointedly high-profile reception to former Thai prime minister and Thaksin ally Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyuth. Chavalit said “Mr Hun Sen is my old friend and I am visiting him at his invitation.”

Last month, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was in Bangkok, where he addressed the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on press freedom in Cambodia. Rainsy slammed the Hun Sen administration, saying that it gives token assent to freedom of speech but uses state resources to hit critics with defamation suits, backed by a pro-government judiciary.

Thitinan said he thinks that Hun Sen has taken umbrage at Rainsy using his time in Thailand to attack the Cambodian government.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of the Asean summit, Cambodian opposition MP San Cchay said that Hun Sen’s reaction shows that he does not understand how a liberal democracy works.

“Just because Sam Rainsy talks in critical terms while in Thailand does not mean it has anything to do with the Thai government. Hun Sen merely betrays his own anti-democratic leanings with such an assumption,” he said.

Yesterday, the anti-government and pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) called on Asean to withdraw support for Abhisit as the bloc’s chairman.

The UDD is seeking a royal pardon to enable Thaksin return to Thailand without having to face jail time on corruption charges. The UDD is also seeking a general election and deems the Abhisit government as illegitimate.

Thaksin is regarded as the most popular yet divisive head of government in recent Thai history, implementing pro-poor policies and developing the northeastern Isaan region, but periodically clamping down on media, launching a draconian war on drugs and seeking a military solution to the southern Thailand Muslim rebellion.

Interestingly, Hun Sen’s comparison of Thaksin’s situation to that of Suu Kyi comes as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate marks a total of 14 years in detention today. She was first arrested in July 1989, ahead of a landslide electoral victory by her party, the National League for Democracy, in May 1990.

The comparison was made even as five Asean member states, including Cambodia, refused to allow NGO representatives other than those handpicked by the governments to attend a scheduled “civil society” meeting with regional heads of government.

Nay Vanda of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association—selected by the Asean People’s Forum as his country’s representative at the meeting—said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“Cambodia is supposed to be a democracy that respects the rule of law. I was chosen via a democratic process, yet the government refused to meet me.

Even Communist, one-party state Vietnam was not afraid to meet the NGO representative selected by the Asean People’s Forum,” he said.

An hour after that meeting, Asean launched a new human rights body, known as the Asean Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission, which has no scope to punish or even draw attention to human rights abuses in Southeast Asia and includes the Burmese junta among its representatives.

Cambodia has usually backed the Burmese regime when it is faced with criticism from the international community.

Hun Sen’s comments came just a day before his Thai counterpart hosted a three-day gathering of sixteen Asian leaders, with the ten-member Asean grouping having a series of meetings on Friday before being joined by counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea on Saturday.

The summit aimed to make progress on Asean integration across a number of sectors. However, Abhisit took Hun Sen’s comments as an attempt to undermine this, saying “[Asean member states] have no time to pay attention to a person who wants to destroy unity.”

This weekend’s summit is a re-run of an April meeting in Pattaya, which was cancelled after Thaksin’s red-shirted backers clashed with troops and pro-government protesters.

That melee further blemished tourist-oriented Thailand’s international image, already sullied after yellow-shirted royalists blockaded Bangkok’s international airports in late 2008. This time around, 36,000 soldiers and police were deployed around Cha-am and Hua Hin, 90 minutes south of Bangkok, to prevent any attempted repeat by the red shirts.

However, Thaksin’s shadow was cast over this summit, albeit by proxy, with Hun Sen apparently seeking to needle his Thai counterpart, with whom relations are already touchy over a long-running border dispute centering on the Preah Vihear temple and surrounding land area.

One month ago, 30,000 Thaksin supporters gathered in Bangkok mark the 3rd anniversary of the military coup that deposed him. The same weekend, royalist protesters caused mayhem around the Preah Vihear site, tussling with locals and exhorting the Thai government to take a more assertive stance with Phnom Penh over the disputed site.

Thitinan told The Irrawaddy: “Thailand and Cambodia have had rocky relations for a number of years. The reasons are multifaceted, but underpinning the divide is the fact that Thailand has somewhat of a superiority complex, while Cambodia perhaps retains an element of colonial baggage, and now sits between two much bigger countries in Thailand and Vietnam.”

Giving an insight into the level of acrimony generated by this latest spat, a press conference given by members of the Asean Interparliamentary Myanmar (Burma) caucus on Saturday afternoon discussed how Burma was pushed down the priority list as a result.

Thai-Cambodia spat couds ASEAN Summit

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Bangkok, Oct 24 : A war of words between Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand and Cambodia over coup-ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, has marred the ASEAN Summit taking place at Hua Hin near here.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is current chair of the 10-nation grouping, has questioned his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen's defence of Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006.

''What is the purpose of Prime Minister Hun Sen coming to Thailand? And what has he said that was in line with the aim of the meeting?'' Mr Abhisit told a press conference.

Mr Abhisit was responding to Mr Hun Sen's reported remarks to the press on his arrival in Hua Hin that his country was ready to offer refuge to Mr Thaksin, who is living abroad in self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution in Thailand on corruption charges.

Mr Hun Sen added that the former Thai Prime Minister could become his economic advisor and insisted that Phnom Penh would not be legally obliged to extradite Mr Thaksin on Bangkok's request.

Mr Hun Sen said Mr Thaksin was a political victim of the 2006 military takeover in Bangkok and compared him to Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Thai Prime Minister said the ASEAN Summit was aimed at building a stronger Southeast Asian community and dismissed his Cambodian counterpart's remarks.

''(ASEAN) has no time to pay attention to a person who wants to destroy ASEAN unity. And I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will receive the right information and change his mind on the matter,'' Mr Abhisit said.